Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sabine Moves On - and Cassandra moves in!

Sabine's been with me since February of this year, and she's come so far.  I can now walk up to her, pet her, halter her and doing anything (aside from riding her) that I do with my own horses.  I'm really proud of her progress.  Now it is time for her to move on.  She's going to become the foster horse for a new member of Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society.   She's now safe to handle and can continue to work on her ground manners until she finds an adopter willing to train her.

She's going to leave either Thursday or Friday morning.  And I have to admit I'm sad to see her go. I know her new foster home will enjoy  her, and I'm proud of what we've accomplished.  I like Sabine, though, and so it'll be a bitter-sweet morning when she leaves.

But when she leaves, a new one will arrive to take her place.  Cassandra is an approx. 8 year old, huge Thoroughbred mare.  She's going to look like a giant next to my little Arabs.  When she came to BEHS, she had the tendency to rear if you asked her to do anything she didn't like.  And she didn't like much!  She spent nearly three months at a trainer's place to get her over rearing.  He put a few rides on her, and she'll come here for more time under saddle.  I'll be posting updates as I work with her. 

For her first week, I plan to just brush up her ground manners:  work on leading, longing, carrying the saddle and bridle, etc.  If she does well with all that, we'll move back into the saddle after a week or so.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Sabine Becomes A "Normal" Horse

Sabine came to BEHS not at all halter broke.  She wasn't scared of people, but she really had no use for them.  Since arriving at my place in February, she's learned to lead, be caught, be haltered, have her feet trimmed, stand for fly spray and baths and grooming, and wear a saddle and bridle.  Although I don't tie her hard and fast (I just wrap the rope around a pole), she hasn't set back or even pulled back in months.  Occasionally you can startle her - but she just jumps, moves away from you and quickly settles down.  No one would ever know she was once an unhandled and uneducated horse.  She really is a normal horse now!

She's also carrying a saddle and bridle.  The bit bothered her at first - she licked and chewed.  But now she wears it with no problems.  She's had a western saddle and english saddle on, and neither bother her.  She's got the basic idea of longing down, and she's doing well.

Tonight, I groomed her, picked up all four feet, fly sprayed her and saddled her - all like a normal horse.  She's even moving over when I put pressure on her side when she's standing at the tie rail.  We went out to the round pen and longed at a walk and trot - no problems.  She's not crazy about cantering on the longe, but we're working on it.

She did so well with everything that I added a new thing today:  I put my foot in the stirrup and hopped up and down.  She put her ears back, but otherwise she didn't even move. I did this on her left side and right side.  Then I got a bucket, stood up on it, and leaned over her back. I patted the saddle, wiggled it around and put a little weight on her back.  No response.

This mare is doing so well - it really is time for her to be adopted and get trained to ride. She's ready for someone who knows what they're doing to continue the work I started. I am SO proud of her!

Sabine meets the Saddle

Once Sabine had learned her other lessons (leading, picking up her feet, giving to pressure, being groomed, being fly sprayed, being hosed off), her next task was to learn about the saddle.

By this point, Sabine really knew my routine. I pulled out the saddle pad and started waiving it around.  She just stood there and looked at me.  I tossed it over her back, and she moved a little but quickly settled down.  She did so well with that lesson, that the next day I repeated it.  And when she stood quietly, I also added a saddle. I used a lightweight English saddle as I really just wanted to get her used to something on her back and to the feel of a girth. She did so well that I took her out for a longing lesson.

When I first tried to longe her (without the saddle), she had no idea what I wanted.  But she pretty quickly picked up on the idea of going in circles and stopping when asked.  The saddle didn't phase her one bit. I also added a bridle, and that made her think.  She chewed on the bit and it took a few sessions before she accepted it.  But she did accept it all.

Feet and Fly Spray

Sabine also needed to learn to lift her feet and have them held for the farrier, and she needed to learn to stand for the farrier.  She was "learning to learn" - that's a phenomena where animals (and humans) learn each task faster, because they've learned how learning works.  In Sabine's case, she was learning I wasn't going to hurt her.  And if she stood still and relaxed, I would stop bugging her more quickly.  Because she was learning more quickly, I worked on these two tasks in the same session.

For her feet, I decided to use a philosophy I had learned at a recent clinic.  That was that each thing you do with a horse should be "just the next thing".  That means that you prepare them with your previous lessons, and then each new lesson is just an extension of the previous ones.  It also means that you approach the new lesson with the idea that it is no big thing - you are just doing "the next thing".  And your confidence projects to your horse.

This worked well for teaching Sabine to pick up her feet.  I had already taught her to let me rub her anywhere.  So I started rubbing her neck, then rubbed her shoulder and then her leg.  When I got to her pastern, I learned into her a bit, and picked up her foot.  The second she took it off the ground, I let go.  I worked on both front feet until she was picking them up with minimal pressure.  This took a few sessions.  But once she got that and was consistently picking up her foot, I moved to the next lesson.  I then asked her to hold her foot up for five seconds.  In the beginning, she moved around and I just held onto her foot until she stood quietly.  Before long, she was holding each front up for 5 seconds. I then increased the length of time by 5 seconds each session until she was holding them up for 30+ seconds and standing still.

Once she knew how to hold up both front feet, I started picking them out and then running my hands all over them, mimicking a rasp, then slapping with them with my hand to mimic a shoe going on, etc.  When she was good with the front feet, I repeated the lessons with the back feet.

During the same training sessions with the feet, I worked on fly spray.  In the beginning, I used water in a bottle so I wouldn't waste fly spray.  I started by spraying it around her, not at her.  If she moved off, I stayed with her and kept spraying until she stood still and relaxed.  Once she did well with that, I started spraying her - starting at her front legs and shoulder.  Again, this took multiple sessions, but once she got it, I started using actual fly spray.

And throughout all these sessions, I reminded Sabine of her lessons in giving to pressure. I asked her to back, lower her head (in response to poll pressure), and flex to the left or right.

I taught her to stand for being hosed off in the same way - hosing slowly, stopping when she relaxed, and keeping with her when she moved around.  She accomplished that lesson in just one day.

Sabine Meets the Rope

After Sabine was leading well and letting me rub and brush on her, I realized I needed to desensitize her to a rope moving around.  When I would go to catch her, she would jump and run off if the rope touched her.  This wasn't going to work.

So I started by having her in a halter and lead and I had another soft cotton rope in my hand.  At first, I twirled the rope in the air.  Again, if Sabine needed to move she could, but I kept her going in a circle around me. I only stopped twirling the rope when she stood still and relaxed.  Within one 10 minute session, I could walk all around her twirling the rope. 

Next, I rubbed her with the rope.  She took that well - it wasn't much different than my hand, the curry or brush.  But she did not like it when I started tossing the rope at her.  Again, if she moved, I stayed with her.  It took several sessions before she would stand quietly while I threw the rope over her neck, back and rump (her rump took the longest).

Sabine's next lessons

Once Sabine was leading well, she had a lot of other lessons to learn.  To be a productive part of society, she needed to learn to stand tied, be fly sprayed, have her feet handled and eventually even be ridden.  But we had to take things one at a time.

Before she could learn any of those things, Sabine needed to learn to be touched.  I started by rubbing her neck - the only place she would let me touch her.  If she needed to move or walk away, I let her but stayed with her, continuing to rub.  If she stopped moving and relaxed, I stopped rubbing her and moved out of her space for a minute.  Then I would go back to rubbing her.  Once she was good about one spot and would stand still and let me rub it, I moved further down her body.  The same rules applied - if she moved, I kept with her and when she relaxed, I stopped.

It took many, many sessions that lasted maybe 10 minutes spread over several weeks until I could rub her anywhere - her face,  her neck, sides, belly, and even her legs.  Once she was standing still and letting me rub anywhere, I repeated the process with a rubber curry comb and then with a stiff brush.  Each item went a little quicker, but it still took multiple sessions.